Dubai has two art districts and they are both worth a look. In the Financial District, get to Gate Village, 10 mid-rise towers connected to the Dubai International Financial Center by wooden walkways. It can be pretty quiet on a weekend, but it has fine galleries ranging from large international firms to storefronts.
Check out Opera Gallery, a Paris-based firm with galleries around the world and some very high-end art including Picasso, Miro and Chagall. When I was there in May, Opera was featuring two French artists whom the catalog described as expressionist-surrealist Jean-François Larrieu and illustrator-caricaturist Patrick Boussignac.
Larrieu takes on the towers of global cities in colorful and amusing depictions. I especially like his cityscapes composed of towers plastered in towers in a very flat style — flat only in the sense that there is no depth, no perspective. The buildings are done in brilliant colors of vertical and horizontal stripes that would give a headache to anyone looking out over such a scene from a balcony, if such a scene existed in real life. In some images of more traditional landscapes, although done in his wildly colorful nontraditional style, vibrant palm trees tower over what are probably beach-front villas, densely packed four-and five-story buildings celebrate with bursts of fireworks in the sky above and in what could be an Italian hill town homes cluster behind curving hills receding into the distance marked by a dark blue mountain. He also does some great butterflies and a tabletop painting that might remind one of Matisse, but Matisse on drugs. In Dubai, where towers are a way of life, I liked those images the best, and was pleased to see that a similar effort was on display in another gallery.
Boussignac paints unrealistic scenes in a graphically realist style. Ok, maybe realist is the wrong word, except that faces look almost photographic in their representation while the figures recall art deco in their style. Fun images.
Across the way in the Art Sawa, another take on urban towers was called Chromatic Landscape by Karine Roche. In a confusion of colors the lines of skyscrapers are still clear, and the paint suggests the active life of a city.
“The city, cities, noise, people behind the colors, flows and networks, accumulation of activities that is giving stun sensations as being in a jungle,” says the show flyer. I like seeing artists taking on cities like this and creating the sense of jumbled activity, as in Larrieu and Roche, or the mystery and suggestions of romance in Bussignac.
A couple of galleries were closed when I visited, and it looked as if one or two featuring art of the region were about to open. Maybe by Sibos…
The other art district in Dubai is in a warehouse area a taxi-ride away from the DIFC in Al Quoz which proclaims it is the home to almost 40 creative and industrial organizations. Take Exit 43 off Sheikh Zayed Street. Get a map printout from your hotel — a lot of taxi drivers and concierges have never heard of the district. Start at one gallery — I chose Green Art Gallery, and work your way around the block. Some of the galleries are a distance away so you might want to get a group and take a taxi and keep it while you tour.
Green describes itself as a contemporary art gallery focusing on artists from the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia, Turkey and beyond. http://www.gagallery.com.
I ran out of time after just four or five galleries and it was getting past 6…fortunately I caught a taxi within a few minutes, but otherwise I could have walked 20 minutes to nearby shopping center, I was told.
Highlights include GPP Limited (http://gulfphotoplus.com), which shows photography. When I was there is had a group show based on thousands of entries which had been winnowed down to about 100 great images printed on various types of an archival art paper. I especially liked Alisdair Miller’s images of city towers (do you perceive a theme here) including an image where he had moved the camera vertically to streak the light of the skyscrapers. The gallery has a catalog and limited editions, so you can take home some art without paying a fortune — prices range from 375 AED for an 11×14 to 2,500 AED for one of an edition of five large 24×36-inch prints. It uses the tag line “Art photography for everyone,” and it looks to be the place to go for photography equipment, printing, books, and buying images.
Next door, Carbon 12 was exhibiting Austrian artist Philip Mueller, who at 25 has already developed a large body of work. See http://www.carbon12dubai.com for updates on their exhibits.
Showcase Gallery had some amazing work by a South African artist, Hendrik Stroebel, who uses embroidery to depict scenes, often in the Middle East. The yarn replaces brushstrokes, but with an intensity and tactility all its own as he uses short strokes, an inch or two of the same yarn, to build up a street or wall, much as a painter will use short strokes of a single or distinctive mix of color. He frames the work in ceramic frames that he designs himself. Look him up online if you don’t still find any of his work in the gallery — the images are superb and show up best in the gallery or in the printed catalog the gallery carries.